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Kaija Saariaho

Publisher: Chester Music

Aile du songe (2001)
commissioned by the Flanders Festival, the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation and the London Philharmonic Orchestra
Chester Music Ltd
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
18 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
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Programme Note
Kaija Saariaho Aile du songe (2001)
I Aérienne

Jardin des oiseaux
D'autres rives

II Terrestre

Oiseau dansant
L'oiseau, un satellite infime de notre orbit planétaire

I have been very familiar with the flute since my earliest pieces. I like the sound in which breathing is ever present and with timbral possibilities that befit my musical language: the instrument's body makes it possible to write phrases that go through grinding textures coloured with phonemes whispered by the flautist which gradually go towards pure and smooth sounds.

The concerto's title and the general mood of the piece derive from Saint-John Perse's collection of poems Oiseaux: "Aile falquée du songe, vous nous retrouverez ce soir sur d'autres rives !". This is not the first time I combine my music with Saint-John Perse's verses. In Laconisme de l'aile, composed in 1981, I already used some sentences from Oiseaux. In these poems, Saint-John Perse does not describe the singing of the birds. He rather speaks of their flight and uses the rich metaphor of the birds to describe life's mysteries through an abstract and multidimensional language:

"Ignorants de leur ombre, et ne sachant de mort que ce qui s'en consume d'immortel au bruit lointain des grandes eaux, ils passent, nous laissant, et nous ne sommes plus les mêmes. Ils sont l'espace traversé d'une seule pensée".

The concerto is composed of two main parts: Aérienne and Terrestre. These two titles are also to be found in one of Perse's poems quoted below.

The three sections of Aérienne describe three different concerted situations:
In Prélude the flute gradually pervades space and generates the orchestra's music, in Jardin des oiseaux the flute interacts with individual instruments of the orchestra, while D'autres rives compares the flute to a lone, high flying bird whose shadow forms different images played by the strings over the unchanged landscape of the harp, celesta and percussion.

The first section of Terrestre, Oiseau dansant, introduces a deep contrast with the other material of the concerto. It refers to an Aboriginal tale in which a virtuosic dancing bird teaches a whole village how to dance. While writing this section, I was especially thinking of Camilla Hoitenga and her personality as a flautist.

The finale - the second section of Terrestre - is a synthesis of all the previous aspects, then the sound of the flute slowly fades away.

"Dans sa double allégeance, aérienne et terrestre, l'oiseau nous était ainsi présenté pour ce qu'il est : un satellite infime de notre orbite planétaire".

AILE DU SONGE is dedicated to Camilla Hoitenga with whom I worked on numerous details in the soloist's part of this piece.

© Kaija Saariaho

Score preview

  • Ensemble
    Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
    Camilla Hoitenga, flute
    Jukka-Pekka Saraste
  • 14 MAR 2020
    Teatro Thalia / Lisbon / Portugal
    Orquestra Metropolitana de Lisboa
    Pedro Neves, conductor

By far the finest music-making I heard over the weekend came on behalf of the impressive Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, whose "Aile du songe" ("Wing of the Dream") received its U.S. premiere here on Saturday -- one of the few pieces of new music Ravinia is presenting this season. Camilla Hoitenga, to whom the score is dedicated, was the brilliant flute soloist. Taking her cue from poems by Saint-John Perse, Saariaho has produced a sound-world that shimmers with beauty and wonder. The two sections are filled with images of birds in flight -- at once living things that mediate between sky and land, and metaphors for the mysteries of life. Rising in intervals suggestive of Asian musical scales, the flute's avian whistles and flutterings draw delicate responses from instruments of the orchestra, primarily exotic percussion. Hoitenga produced an incredible array of played, sung and spoken sounds, while Eschenbach and the CSO made sympathetic partners. I haven't heard a better piece of new music all year. Copyright (c) 2002, Chicago Tribune
John Von Rein, Chicago Tribune,08/07/2002
He [Vladimir Jurowski] stamped his mark on the two main events of the evening bringing authority and calm control to Kaija Saariaho's tricky Aile du Songe, an LPO co-commission receiving its first British performance. Saariaho, the orchestra's featured composer this season, writes music of elemental purity, but still the delicate aura of this piece is perhaps something new. Scored with precesion for solo flute and a large body of strings and percussion, its slow pulse does not preclude busier detail; the soloist (here the outstanding Camilla Hoitenga) rides the orchestra ecstatically and is also required to produce special effects, including whispering and chanting while playing. Though the piece takes its title from the French poetry of Saint-John Perse, it ranges widely; Saariaho's inspiration in the second movement is an Aboriginal tale in which a bird teaches a whole village to dance. Yet the music seems to be less about birdsong than the freedom of flying and floating in the air. After the whirling climax of that dance it is as if the soloist disappears into the upper atmosphere.
John Allison, The Times,08/03/2002
The flute is a weirdly Janus-faced instrument. Capable of seamless refinement, it is also the most primordial member of the orchestra: almost onomatopeic in its invication of breath, voice, and bird-song. Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's flute concerto, Aile du Songe (Wing of Dream) invastigates this rich multi-facetedness. Conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, the London Philharmonic Orchestra (one of the work's commissioners) gave the UK premiere of the concerto with Camilla Hoitenga. The work's title is taken from a line in Saint-John Perse's poems, Oiseaux. Inspired by Perse's imagery, the music conjures a garden of birds. The Piece ends with a musical invocation of a bird orbiting the Earth, like a tiny satellite. But there's nothing narrowly programmatic about Saariaho's music. She created a rich musical drama built around the ever-changing relationship between the solo flute and an unsusual orchestra of strings, harp, and percussion. In the first part, Aerial, the orchestra opens up a vast musical space. The flute's intricate lines are suspended between the hights of violins harmonics and depths of double bass drones. But the orchestra is coaxed into song by the flute's infectious melodies. Solo instruments emerge from the accompanying texture, mimicking the flute's bird-like refrains. The result is dazzling. Saariaho creates a stuningly sensual sound world. But there is nothing cloying or sentimental about this evocation. Moments of violence interrupt the serene, static, surface of the music. The concerto's second part, Terrestrial, develops this earthy energy. Hoitenga led the orchestra in a vibrant volatile dance, and relished the bizarre noises made by singing and speaking into her instrument. But the final movements suggest an other wordly transcendence. Hoitenga's bird escaped the influence of the orchestra, and ascended into stratosphere of the flute's highest register. What is remarkable is that Saariaho has transformed theses elemental images into a movingly human drama.
Tom Service, The Guardian,07/03/2002
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